Why is Art so Unimportant to So Many People?

This is a true story: A few weeks ago I overheard a college-aged son tell his mother that he got into one of the two classes he really wanted to take in the fall.

“Which one?”, she asked.

“The art class!” he replied, his voice full of excitement.

“I don’t care about THAT! I want to know if you got into the REAL class, you know, the math class!”, she said scornfully.

The gods of art- and I- wept.

Teacher Appreciation Day was a few weeks ago and numerous friends on Facebook posted about how art teachers are not considered to be “real” teachers. This attitude- that visual art, music and performance are not as important as other fields of study- is ridiculously pervasive in our culture.

I believe that this is, in part, because those of us in the arts have not done an effective job at educating those who don’t already love the arts as to their value. When we talk about their value, we tend to talk among ourselves about it, which is like preaching to the choir. Or we talk about it in terms that don’t speak to non-artists. We shake our heads in disbelief, but don’t attempt to step outside of ourselves and make a concerted effort at educating others in ways that will resonate and stick.

How can you make a convincing argument to an engineer that making art can facilitate and enhance the learning of math, for instance? My favorite example of how this can be done comes from the way that Waldorf education approaches integrating the arts, math and science. Waldorf schools initially introduce math and math concepts by teaching young children how to knit before they put pencil to paper. In so doing, the kids are learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide (stitches and rows). As they knit, they are doing mathematical equations in their heads and creating with their hands, which prepares them for learning how to do it on paper. The items they knit are beautifully colored art objects, of which they are rightly proud.

On a different educational level, a few years ago I read about Daina Taimina, the Cornell University math professor who knits and crochets objects to illustrate hyperbolic space to her graduate students. Her artwork is exhibited all over the world now. How she thinks and what she does is a perfect example of how art and science belong to the same worlds. And we artists need to get better at explaining and illustrating that in concrete ways, or stories like the one I told at the beginning of this post will just be told endlessly until the end of days.

The conversation we are having in the US about importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education should really be a conversation about STEAM:

Home

(Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) education. But until we artists make an effective case about the importance of art in relation to other areas of learning, we will never have a seat at that table and will always be considered expendable.

Work-Life Balance for Artists

Work-life-art balance – Is there such a thing?!

My answer to that is: There can be, but it is a constant struggle to maintain it, and there are plenty of times when it is impossible. At least, that is my experience.

There are so many factors that one has to deal with in life: Work demands, personal relationships with partners/kids/family/friends, physical and mental health issues, financial pressures… I could go on and on. These factors will vary for everyone and change over time. For example, for the first 14 years of my career as an artist-educator, children were not part of my life. I found the work-life-art balance challenging enough, but then I had twins and everything changed.

Back in 2004, an interviewer asked me to describe a typical day in my life and this is what I wrote:

5:30am- Wake up, answer e-mails for 30 minutes, exercise briefly, eat breakfast, shower, start a load of laundry.

7am- While my hands are engaged in trying to make lunch for my kids, my mind is scanning the entire day to come so that I don’t forget anything. Good luck with that! It’s also my turn to take the kids to school.

8:30am-12:30pm- In my studio wrapping up the pre-production activities for a book of my photographs that is being published in a few months. I’m on the phone with the designer, the copy editor, and the translators setting up the final round of proofreading. I’m also getting together a copyright application and an exhibition application. This means preparing digital files of the photos, filling out paperwork, labeling, addressing….

12:30pm- Work-related meetings.

2-4:20pm- Teach a class of graduate and advanced photography students.

5:30pm- Family time with spouse and kids. Includes making, eating, and cleaning up after dinner, and getting the kids to bed.

8:20pm- Grade student projects, prepare for upcoming classes, answer e-mails, and do some committee work.

10:30pm- The siren song of sleep is calling my name.

As you can see, my days were jam-packed full, with hardly any down time. But the above example also illustrates my first piece of advice for artists who are struggling to find time to make art amidst the chaos of life and the demands of your job: Schedule regular time for art-related activities and make that time inviolate. Whether you spend that time on making art or preparing grant applications, etc., doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the only way that you will find time to have art in your life is to make it a priority.

For me, that meant scheduling it- just like a doctor’s appointment. If I scheduled time for my creative life and treated it like I did an important doctor’s appointment, then I wasn’t going to end up giving that time away. I ended up carving out a grand total of 8 hours per week for my art. Twice a week, 4 hours each time. Which, as any artist knows, is grossly inadequate. But it was enough to keep me going, to keep my hand in it. And because my time dedicated to art was so limited, I rarely wasted it.

Clara Lieu, an art professor and artist, wrote a terrific blog post on this subject titled:

Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Balance a Full-Time Job, Kids and Your Own Artwork?

In it, she states: “Successfully balancing a full-time job, kids and your art is all about various forms of sacrifice.” Whether you have kids or not, that is totally true. And there are times when one or the other thing will have to be sacrificed. For example, for the first three years after my kids were born, I did nothing art-related at all. Nothing. Because I literally couldn’t. I was so exhausted from raising the kids and trying to do my job that I couldn’t even think about art. As obsessed as I am about art-making, I just realized that I couldn’t make it a priority at that time. But the funny thing was, I didn’t care. I knew that that state wouldn’t last forever, and it didn’t. Once the kids were older and less labor-intensive, I started scheduling time for creative work once again.

And that brings me to my second piece of advice, which is that learning to say “no” is an important part of making the sacrifices necessary for work-life-art balance, and the sooner you practice doing that, the better off you will be. As described above, sometimes I had to say “no” to my art. Sometimes I had to say “no” to how much time and energy I spent on my job. Sometimes I had to say “no” to a social or sports or family event. What you say “no” to will vary, according to what life throws at you at any given time.

No one can do it all or have it all, all the time. Saying “no” becomes an important coping mechanism for keeping your energy and time focused on what your priorities are/need to be. I know that that’s easier said than done, but it really does help.

Everyone has to figure out their own answer to how to create work-life-art balance for themselves. Keep trying out different approaches until you find something that fits your own life and then keep at it, until you need to make a change again in order to regain your balance.

 

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 4)

Because I’ve recently been thinking and writing a lot about what happens to artwork when an artist dies (don’t worry, I’m perfectly healthy), I’ve been researching why artwork gets archived, how it gets organized, recorded and stored, and things to think about when creating a plan for one’s archives.

Finding solid helpful information was challenging at first. It wasn’t until I started using search terms like “estate planning for visual artists” that I began finding items that I felt could usefully guide me towards finding answers to my questions.

What follows are a few of the best sources I could find:

Etched in Memory: Legacy Planning for Artists (An online resource that has a ton of resources listed on this topic.)

A Visual Artist’s Guide to Estate Planning

Artists’ Studio Archives website (This has a great page of handouts from “how to” workshops that they have offered.)

Artist’s Estates: Reputations in Trust (This is a book that outlines what happened to a number of 20th C. artists’ works after they died.)

Estate Planning Guide and Career Documentation Workbook (from the Joan Mitchell Foundation- both were updated in Feb. 2015)

After reading a number of the above items, I’ll be honest- it’s enough to make your head explode, even for someone like me who is crazily detail-oriented. I now realize that, for artists, there are two major things to think about when it comes to estate planning: 1. your artwork, and 2. everything else. Holy crap! At least I’ve got a fairly up-to-date inventory of my artwork, so that’s a start.

Be that as it may, I’m very clear that I do NOT want to burden my family with having to figure out what to do with my artwork once I am gone. Given that, I have to get my act together in order to create a plan that relieves them of that task. I’m glad to now have some guidance for doing that.